Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge would like nothing more than to get back to running their business, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, and perhaps to relocate it to a larger office in their building whose desk has all four legs under it. But their reputation as crime fighters precedes them now, so in addition to pairing off various lonely hearts, they’re working for Lady Matheson, who herself works for the queen, in A Royal Affair, Allison Montclair’s second mystery starring the duo.
Discretion is required as Gwen and Iris search for a cache of letters that could derail Princess Elizabeth’s engagement; the loose lips that sank ships during the war can still threaten royalty with scandal. Gwen and Iris follow the trail and quickly realize nothing is as simple as it appears, and that this is information people will kill for.
The balance Montclair strikes between humor and hard truths is arresting. Postwar England has its raucous parties and a lot of can-do spirit, but the entire nation is still reeling—and rationing for that matter. (Can a birthday party be any fun if the cake has “tooth powder frosting”?) Gwen and Iris sling banter that makes them sound like the war-hardened women they are, but a scene in a therapist’s office makes the depth of their separate sorrows, and their care for one another, abundantly clear. Descriptions of neighborhoods where one building stands next to bombed-out rubble are unnerving and add to the sense of danger.
Have faith, though: There’s not much that can stop this pair, who have friends in high and low places and a delightfully complementary set of skills. The climactic scene laying out the whodunit (and why) is like a maraschino cherry in a complex cocktail. Here’s to the return of these formidable women, and to many more chances to enjoy their company.